Legal Enforcement for Early Betrothals

March 14th, 2022 by admin Leave a reply »

By the 500s, the practice of kidnapping one’s bride of choice, as had been an eerily common practice among several ancient societies, was officially and universally illegal among Anglo-Saxon societies. At this point, hopeful husbands had no choice but pay the bride price to demonstrate his capacity to support a family by either bestowing extravagant or practical gifts upon the family of the bride he hoped for, or by working for the family to pay off the bride price for one of their daughters. Over time, as a protection against the prospect of divorce, the tradition of the bride price shifted to involve fathers of the bride paying a dowry to his daughter’s husband-to-be instead.

This way, the wife was also bringing something into her new marriage, and would have something to leave the marriage with in the event that divorce did occur. Another cruel practice that became illegal centuries later was that of proposing to a woman, becoming engaged, then jilting her before the actual ceremony – but after the couple had already engaged in intimate acts, in effect consummating the marriage early, as was not rarely the case among young engaged couples despite that they were supposed to remain chaste until the marriage was made official.

These conditions had emerged in 1217, when the Bishop of Salisbury felt it necessary to declare betrothals as legally binding as the marriage ceremonies they were meant to promise, putting to rest to unfair practice among some men who would give women simple, inexpensive rush-rings at no major expense to themselves to indicate their intent to marry – but in reality only bedding them and jilting them later. The Bishops’ declaration made it so that even these rush ring engagements would be legally binding, so that men would cease to humiliate and ruin the lives of unsuspecting women.


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